Montana Public Radio

September Bee Stings: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Oct 1, 2018

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about: September bee and wasp stings. Ouch!

Over Labor Day weekend a few years ago, I had a remarkable insect experience. I was camping with my family near a lake in the Bitterroot valley. The lunch we planned for our very first day was steak sandwiches.

Ummm, were they going to be delicious! Fresh steak, barbequed at home the night before, sharp cheddar cheese, hearty, yummy brown bread, lettuce, tomato, and onion from the garden and homemade pickles. 

We decided that each camper would make their own sandwich, so I set the ingredients out on plates. Within seconds, yellow jacket wasps were swarming all around our food. They were especially interested in the steak. Making a sandwich was pretty hard and eating our food was even harder. The wasps landed on our sandwiches and clung there while we waved the sandwiches around and toward our mouths.

I had to do something! So I thought about it……hummm…..what could we do……? Maybe a distraction would work. The bees seemed to like the meat…, I took a long piece of steak, about 5 inches long, and set it on a plate at the end of the big rock we were using as a table. As we watched, within seconds, a yellow jacket landed on the meat. In a few seconds, another one landed and then another and another and another until the whole piece of meat was covered with yellow jackets, so covered that we couldn’t even see the meat. It was just a pile of yellow jackets. After a while, the pile was gone and so was the meat. It had totally and completely disappeared, devoured by the yellow jackets.

The distraction worked. While the insects ate their meat, we ate our sandwiches and our picnic was a success.

People who are smart about insects know that September is a time when humans are most likely to get stung by all sorts of bees and wasps. That’s because when the nights turn cold, insects get worried and they get kind of aggressive.

Their food supply is dwindling. Flower nectar is drying up and the protein they like - other insects like mosquitoes and gnats – are disappearing. They have to find food where they can, which just might be your picnic or your barbeque or your garbage can. The best way to protect yourself from bee stings is to pay attention.

The bees really don’t want to sting you, but in September they’re pretty desperate. If you get between them and their food, you’ll likely get stung. So, if you’re eating outside, look at your food before you take a bite. When you are outside doing projects or chores, look at buckets and garbage cans and animal feed bowls before you touch them. In the fall, bees like dog food and apples and any tiny bits of food that might be lying around.

If you see a bee and need it to move, don’t swat. Instead, gently fan your hand over the top of the insect and encourage it to fly away. If you do get stung, here are a few things you can do.

First, wash the sting area with soap and water to get rid of any bacteria from your skin or from the insect. Then put cool water or ice on the sting right away. This will feel good. It will help the sting not hurt too much and keep it from swelling into a giant bump. If you’re at home, you can ask your parents to put special plant medicines on the sting. The best are Arnica gel, St. John’s Wort oil and Echinacea tincture. Just slap any or all three of those right on top of the sting every half hour for several hours.

You can also make a little paste with baking soda and water and put the paste right over the sting. Like plant medicines, baking soda paste can help make the sting a little less painful.

Some kids are very, very allergic to bee and wasp stings. If you are one of those kids, tell your parents as soon as you get stung so that they can give you the special medicine you need. Even if you are not allergic to insects, it’s a good idea to tell your parents if you get stung. That way they can keep an eye on your wound and make sure it heals quickly.

I hope you have a very happy and bee sting free September. I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.